Google Me, We Hardly Knew Ye as Facebook Foil

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-09-15

I had a dream, a dream that Google would build a super social network to defend its turf versus Facebook, the feisty upstart looking to supplant Google as the place to be online.

Instead, I'll have to settle for threads of social woven into the fabric that comprises Google's Web services.

In a Vulcan-like, somewhat boring but completely logical move, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said at Google's Zeitgeist event Sept. 14. that his company will release social features across Google properties in layers. That means no Google Me Social Network!

Reuters quoted Schmidt as saying:

Everybody has convinced themselves that there's some huge project about to get announced next week. And I can assure you that's not the case.

We're trying to take Google's core products and add a social component... If you think about it, it's obvious. With your permission, knowing more about who your friends are, we can provide more tailored recommendations. Search quality can get better.

With those comments, I say: Facebook rejoice: Google has officially ceded the social network market to your arms for the foreseeable future.

While I believe all of Schmidt's details to be absolutely true, as a tech journalist covering both companies, I'm also hungry for a social networking dust-up between arguably the most powerful Internet companies hosting billions of bytes of users' data today.

Watching Yahoo and MySpace drag their wounded carcasses across Google and Facebook warpaths, respectively, has been painful to say the least. I'd rather see Google tackle Facebook head-on instead of skulking around by sewing social into its tapestry.

If Google did take its acquisitions of Slide, Jambool, Angstro, SocialDeck along with its partnership with Zynga and stitched the assets together into some social network, it would be an exciting new product to scrutinize and follow.

But Google is smart enough to know this approach would likely fail to attract the kind of user base Facebook has. Facebook has 500 million-plus users, many of whom have stored tons of photos and video, along with their friends' contact info, on the Website.

It's become this huge treasure chest of user info. Google also has a huge treasure chest of its own, mostly from search and Gmail.

But people don't hang out on Google as much. Facebook recently passed Google in total minutes logged for August.

Many folks wiser than I have already pointed out that the world doesn't need another social network and it looks like Google agrees. It just wants to make its properties more social to keep users there longer.

For example, the Wall Street Journal (paywall) said Google is exploring how to notify users when a video is being watched by many friends in their network.

Google's social efforts are clearly a continuation of its strategy to keep people seeing its ads, not necessarily having a sexy storefront a social network would provide.

I agree with the strategy because I think any social network going against Facebook will fail -- even as I'm dissappointed there will be no formal Google Me storefront to measure up to Facebook.

And we already know how this story will go. We see it now in Google Buzz. I still use it occasionally and still receive followers and follow people. I have no argument with the notion that tens of millions of people may still be using it, unless proven otherwise.

But do you really think the bulk of these users have forsworn Facebook or Twitter entirely to share info in Buzz? Clap-clap. Wake up. Stop the delusion.

At the end of the day, this socialization Google is talking about will likely follow Buzz's path. It will be used where convenient, and ignored when not.

But even if Google keeps some of its 1 billion searchers and Web services users from going to Facebook some of the time by luring them with widgets and virtual currency offerings, it may slow some of the social power's growth.

Perhaps that's the idea. Google isn't looking to win social in a year; it's looking to get in the social game for the long haul.

So even while I had visions of virtual currency pricing duels between Google Jambool and Facebook Credits dancing in my head, it looks like I'll have to settle for Google's more conservative approach of assaulting Facebook's social fortress with modest missiles instead of a nuke.

Of course, Schmidt's comments could simply be some brinksmanship to shock the world later with a major attack on Facebook. That's my latest dream.

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